The people here smack. Terribly. We're not just talking about chewing with their mouths open. Oh no. I could deal with that, no problem (I grew up with two brothers). We're talking about a tongue-wagging, food-sloshing, teeth-clicking mouth party that makes my stomach a bit queasy, to be frank.
After almost four years of keeping my mouth shut (pun slightly-intended), I finally got around to asking Daniel about it.
"Oh," he said, "I can easily tell you why they do that."
"Really?" I said. "Good, then please do. I am just confounded by it."
"Well," he said, "have you ever eaten with a local person when you hadn't either cooked the food or bought the meal?"
I thought for a moment. "No."
"See, there you go. Your only experience dining with locals is when a 'Thank you for this great food!' is in order, with a hearty, 'I love your company!' thrown in. That's what you're getting from them when they toss food around in their mouths, tearing at the bread and slurping up the soup. Even if they hate it, they want you to think they LOVE it, and that they LOVE you."
"Oh," I said, feeling a little guilty for judging them all these years.
"On the flip side," Daniel went on, "when we sit there and gently jaw our bites behind pursed lips, they think, 'Geez, would you get a load of this guy! How rude and ungrateful of him.'"
"Oh," I said again, feeling very guilty now.
"Do you smack when you eat with them?" I asked.
"No," Daniel replied. "No need. I always buy."
And that's where we left the conversation, until yesterday, when Daniel got home from a lunch meeting with a local brother and announced, beaming, "I smacked, like a mad man, all the way through lunch!!"
"Oh honey, that's great! Why the change of heart?"
"I let him buy," he said. "He paid, I smacked."
And there you have it. Crossing Cultures 101. You can send me a tuition check in the mail. Scratch that, it would probably get stolen at the post office.